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IHRLG WOMEN'S INHERITANCE RIGHTS IN AFRICA INITIATIVE
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In many parts of the world, women's right to inherit land and other property is severely limited. Under customary law that is followed in many countries in Africa, at a man's death, his property is either inherited by his adult sons or, if his children are minors, repossessed by his family. Customary laws, cultural practices and traditional norms are used to justify the disinheritance of widows and invoked to override statutory or constitutional provisions for women that may provide them with a legal right to inherit. In Nigeria, for example, customary law settles approximately 80 percent of land disputes at the expense of women's rights.

The denial of inheritance rights to women results in the descent of millions of women and their families into extreme poverty and is a major cause and consequence of violence against women in Africa. The number of those affected by discriminatory inheritance practices continues to rise in Africa because of war and HIV/AIDS. It has been estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of the 16 million children that have lost at least one parent to HIV/AIDS is living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Young girls, orphaned by the epidemic, have become heads of impoverished and vulnerable households. Elderly women have also been affected since the responsibility for supporting grandchildren often falls on the shoulders of the elderly.

IHRLG has worked with human rights groups and activists to end unjust inheritance practices in Africa since 1998, in follow-up to our regional consultation on inheritance rights in Accra, Ghana, for 22 participants from 10 West African countries. The Additional Protocol on the rights of women to the African [Banjul] Charter of Human and Peoples' Rights adopted several recommendations from the consultation. In 1999, we launched an international advocacy campaign to raise the issue of inheritance rights at the annual meetings of the UN Commission on Human Rights and coordinated the first annual Day of Action for Women's Inheritance Rights in collaboration with a coalition of local partners in West Africa.

Going forward, IHRLG is enhancing our international advocacy campaign and mentoring our local partners in legislative advocacy and public education and outreach. We also have begun to establish working relationships between groups in African countries that have undergone positive advances in reclaiming inheritance rights (such as Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe) with groups in those countries where the struggle to protect women's right to inherit has yet to bring transformative change (such as Cameroon, Nigeria, and Togo).

Click on the links below to learn more about IHRLG's women's inheritance rights activities to-date:

more arrow Amplifying the voices of disinherited African widows through international advocacy

more arrow Coordinating Days of Action for Women's Inheritance Rights

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